Corkill Systems Global Innovation

When he received news that his father had just a year left to live, Steve Corkill cut short his OE, returning to Opunake, Coastal Taranaki.

Now, 25 years later, his father is still very much alive, and Steve is still in Opunake, having built first a successful electrical contracting business and more recently a globally innovating dairy automation company.

“Coming back from overseas with experience in the latest equipment and technologies, having seen the sheer scale of what was happening internationally, made me look closely at what was going on here,” Steve says.

Steve started electrical contracting company Corkill Electrical, which quickly established itself around the Taranaki coast and beyond.

But after finding some of his more creative side projects were catching the interest – and the wallets – of the local dairy sector, Steve sold off the contracting side of the business in 2001 to focus on developing and manufacturing a range of dairy automation equipment, and Corkill Systems was born.

“We found that the whole milking process wasn’t making the most of technology that was on offer overseas, so we developed and built systems that turned out to be world first products and are now regarded as standard equipment in new dairy sheds,” says Steve

“We basically just started playing with things.”

Steve quickly found that the close-knit coastal community he had grown up in was also a fantastic test-bed for cutting-edge dairying innovation.

“Right here in Opunake we’ve got the highest concentration of dairy cows in New Zealand. It’s the perfect place to develop new products – you can try them on a mate’s farm where he’ll tell you pretty quickly what works and what doesn’t.”

Corkill’s impressive product range spans milk pumps, vacuum pumps, and control and automation systems, though they have been truly eclipsed by the number of award certificates that crowd out their Opunake offices.

His team are constantly developing new products to further automate the milking process, with a focus on energy efficiency and protecting the quality of the milk – something Steve says is often overlooked at the shed end of the milk supply chain.

The company’s latest project, a new design concept for a high flow, low pressure pump brings a smile to Steve’s face - “It has the potential to change the industry, to overcome product damage from the source.”

“We’ve got Fonterra listening to that one,” he says.

Steve could be running this groundbreaking company from anywhere in the world, but he’s chosen Opunake.

“It has its challenges,” he says, “it can be hard to find staff, but that’s also one of its positives - there’s not a lot of competition for good staff.”

As a result nearly all of his staff have been there for more than five years, and most for over a decade - no mean feat in an increasingly transferrable global skills market.

Steve credits Venture Taranaki for helping him get things moving in the right direction, from day one.

“I’ve had a long association with Venture Taranaki, even dating back to before it was called that,” he says.

“Over the years Venture Taranaki has helped me get a business mentor, access business development and R&D grants, and we’re now looking to work with them to expand our export markets,” says Steve.

Where to next? Corkill Systems are working on a “revolutionary” new product that Steve says will take the company beyond its dairy industry roots. Venture Taranaki is right there to help them get there.